Washington State talks about more controls on growth

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

A backlash against the pro-growth forces is beginning to brew here as a population explosion in Washington State spreads toward undeveloped land. As a result, the Washington Environmental Council is laying the groundwork for a state initiative to limit growth. Limited natural resources can't stand the heavy growth pressure, according to a leader of the council.

Development foes have ousted a majority of the Issaquah City Council, dubbing last November's election the "Issaquah massacre." And Chris Himes, a growth-management advocate, reorganized Redmond City Hall when she won the mayor's job. Both cities are in Seattle's backyard.

Nearby, in Bellevue, the state's fourth largest city, Maria Cain was elected to a city council seat, although she probably won't get a lid on high-rises.

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A limit on growth is an issue in Ginni Steven's race for the Snohomish County Council. Snohomish is a neighbor of Seattle.

"I boycott busy freeways and the new shopping center," asserts Ms. Stevens, expressing the crusading spirit characteristic of players in this state's property-development controversy.

Crusaders themselves have clashed.

When King County's "county group" attempted to muster political strength in recent council races, developers almost exterminated these citizen proponents of "graceful growth."

Then, the government move to exert more controls to cope with growth ignited a backlash.

After reducing minimum lot sizes, King County promoted growth management as a way of braking sprawl. The county, home of Seattle, wants to develop sites and lots in existing centers, thus discouraging growth in semideveloped areas. Community plans and scattered moratoriums have locked the door against traditional development.

"Bureaucracies and arrogance hold our land in hostage," asserts Bill Boeing, son of the Boeing Company founder.

"We'll work for protection of private-property rights," he vows. Mr. Boeing helped finance the new Property Owners of Washington with a contribution of $10, 000.

Mr. Boeing's group joined a statewide federation to combat "overregulation" and what members perceive to be usurpation of landowner's rights. One ally is the Western Environmental Trade Association, long at odds with environmentalists.

Meanwhile, the Seattle-King County Board of Realtors has organized a voter-registration drive of some 3,000 members at its annual meeting. The 1980 president-elect, David Page, proclaimed a new era of political activism.

Powerhouses such as the Seattle Master Builders and Trades Councils (of Seattle and the State of Washington) continue to take decisive roles. Snohomish and King County units of the group defeated a Snohomish County regulation to levy fees against builders for schools, roads, and fire protection. Undaunted, Snohomish officials seek to nullify the builders' court victory.

Snohomish is symptomatic, however, of a trend toward fees, now under consideration by several jurisdictions.

"The $64 question is: How much should they charge?" says Seattle lawyer Jerry Hillis, who generally represents the developers.

Fees pinch the pockets of developers who, in turn, argue that they harm the consumer as well. Moreover, the developers contend that regulation creates an artificial market in which the narrowing of the supply of new housing drives up costs, thus hurting the elderly and newly married.

"It's your children and grandchildren who'll need housing," they argue.

Residents also say that new development will clog the streets, raise property taxes, and despoil the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

The issue becomes even sharper in Seattle. Here, the Displacement Coalition caused several builders to provide moderately priced housing to compensate for demolished units that were cleared to make way for new dwellings. Terre Harris of the master-builders group held out an olive branch to the coalition backers.

"Can we work in concert to boost the housing supply?" he asks. The battle is often waged quietly:

* Only maverick broker Frank Fuano publicly attacked the preservation of farmland; however, opponents undercut the preservation effort behind the scenes.

* A sewer-plant expansion for up to 396,800 acres looms, but King County resident Leon Harris says the agency turned to "alternatives" after he organized a massive protest.

* Lawyer Robert Stead recalls a rezoning loser who threatened "to wipe him out" after a zoning hearing in the community of Federal Way, south of Seattle. The community is moving toward incorporation as the state's fifth largest city.

* Gov. Dixy Lee Ray appointed leaders of the Master Builders and Trades Council to a board that rules on King County sewer district expansion, annexation, and incorporation. Governor Ray did not reappoint Ann Aagaard, a stalwart for farmland preservation.

A third appointee, Dee Pedersen, opposes a statewide planning authority.

"A central authority?" she asks. "That's what the Soviets have." (Oregon has a statewide Land Conservation and Development Commission, implemented by "1,000 friends.")

Growth is an issue in the gubernatorial contest. The expected Republican front-runner, King County executive John Spellman, campaigned for the county's $ 50 million farmland- preservation bond issue. Bonds recently approved by the voters will buy development rights to secure up to 15,000 acres for agricultural use. Washington alone has such a voter-approved program.

John Bagnariol, co-speaker of the House, has been pressing Governor Ray to define her position on the management of growth, Mr. Bagnariol is a Democrat who is eyeing the governor's chair. Some say he straddles the fence when he urges agencies to consider farmland preservation in decisionmaking while arguing that decisions on preservation rest with the local officials.

The winner of the gubernatorial race next fall will head a state that is expected to grow by a million people every 10 years for the next few decades.

"Washington State is one of the last frontiers in terms of growth," declared Roger Leed, a Seattle lawyer who specializes in environmental law. "We're where California and the East were 20 years ago," he adds. "That's why we have confrontation."

Growth is laced with economic considerations. For example, at stake are the livelihoods of real estate, architectural, and union interests as well as the economic well-being of industry.

A Green River industry's expansion plan may not get off the drawing boards if Puget Power's restrictions are too confining. This industry finds that new growth outstrips the power supply. On the credit side, growth breeds a bigger tax base; on the debit side, growth demands tax money for roads, schools, and services.

Meanwhile, Mr. Boeing's group has attacked the country's cost-of-growth analysis and is collecting data to submit in rebuttal.

Tension climbs, and only the names of groups, such as "Backward Thrust" -- a reaction to the Forward Thrust park bonds -- lend a wry touch of humor.

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